A few more ETs in the past month. ET meaning early termination. That’s what happens when a PCVs decides to resign.
Basically, one decides (a) that being in Nepal for two years isn’t worth sacrificing something else, like, let’s say, graduate school, work, cheese burgers, microbrew, comfort, et cetera, or (b) that they cannot stand fronting as a developmental volunteer when they seem themselves as pawns of the State Department.
The N/191s (the 191st group to come to Nepal) are about to COS come the first week of November. They came to Nepal as a group of 38 (I think) education volunteers: science, English, and math teachers. At present, there are 24 volunteers left. My group arrived with 56 volunteers, and now we’re down to 50.
Three people left during training, and three people left shortly thereafter. Usually more people leave during training. So, for a while, we thought quite foolishly that all of us could come together when it came time for our COS. The N/193s came with 22 people (I think) and are now just nine.
Case in example: Jason Blank. He is someone that I have never met. Andrew told me about him. Andrew is another N/194 English Language Teacher Trainer (ELTT).
Andrew had been a PCV in Uzbekistan for a year until September 11, 2002, when Peace Corps pulled out the volunteers when it became apparent that the US military was going to use Uzbekistan as a launching point for military action. He reapplied and decided to go ‘back out’ to Nepal.
Back to Jason Blank. This is the story of Jason Blank’s Peace Corps experience as told to me by Andrew. Anyhow, Jason Blank had studied Russian (both the language and the culture) in college, but yet he’d never been there or even been on a plane before flying to the Peace Corps staging event.
Andrew sat next to him on the plane, Jason Blank’s second time on a plane and first flight over an ocean. Jason Blank was tense and was rocking a bit in his chair as the plane took off. Andrew could see that Jason Blank was having a tough time taking everything in that was happening.
When the plane touched down in Tashkent, Jason Blank took out his guitar and began singing Russian folk songs to the children in Russian. They’d only been in Uzbekistan for a matter of hours before Jason Blank switched over into a Russian-only mode.
Jason Blank was in a group that, as a whole, had no exposure to Russian (or Uzbek, the other language). And Jason Blank stopped speaking English on touchdown in Tashkent.
During briefings and seminars, he only answered questions (asked in English, of course, since no other PCVs at this point spoke Russian) in Russian, which caused some discord with the other trainees, volunteers, and especially program staff. The first few nights in Tashkent when all the new volunteers went out for dinner, Jason Blank would only speak Russian even though he was around the other volunteers who knew no Russian.
All this had happened within 36 hours of arriving in Uzbekistan. When the Peace Corps medical officer asked Jason Blank, in English,
Jason, are you having problems you’d like to talk about? Jason Blank answered enthusiastically,
After only four days in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Jason Blank was ‘medically separated,’ meaning a Peace Corps medical officer decided that Jason was not physically and/or psychologically fit to serve. The medical officer had sat down with the training officers and warned him,
If you don’t speak English right now we’re going to send you home. OK?
Jason Blank refused, politely and in Russian of course, and he was on the next plane home. This is what is called a ‘wack-o-vac’ in Peace Corps lingo. Jason Blank went nuts, or so Andrew told me.
There weren’t any such immediate ET with, well, odd circumstances. A woman left after about a month as her mother had become ill, or so I’m told. But there were two other ETs during training, both of whom I was friends with.
We saw them struggling, at least for a time, with the decision to go home. They had to make two tough decisions and bear the consequences, a decision that I considered more than once (but not many more times than once).
But I’ve decided over and over again that staying in Nepal is what I want to do, and as long as I’m not suffering that decision, I’ll stay. I had left the United States and the people I loved and cared about for reasons far from selfless, though perhaps somewhat naively so.
Those folks who ET‘d decided to come to Nepal and then decided to leave—two tough decisions.
Jason Blank took the easy way out. He let the decision fall out of his hands, in a passive-aggressive sort of way: “If you don’t speak English right now we’re going to send you home. OK?” Wherever you are Jason Blank, I salute you: nos drovia!
There is more to say. Back during training, I escorted a sick friend to Kathmandu, sort of like a human courier. Medical had thought she’d contracted malaria or Japanese Encephalitis and so they deemed it necessary for someone to accompany her. Luckily she had a minor viral infection that caused photosensitivity, a common symptom in more serious illnesses.
The 24-hour period from when we left Gaidankot to Bharatpur (where the airport is) and then arriving in Kathmandu and getting to the Peace Corps medical office was rough. When I got back to Gaidankot the next day, someone had asked me about how everything had gone. I said,
Well, I have a new best friend.
That was the first major illness for her but not by any means the last. She remained sick for the duration of training and even when we went to post. Her post was in nearby Narayanghat (nearby to our training site).
After having a hard time at her school and deciding that teaching wasn’t something she was really interested in doing. (She told me once,
I just don’t like children, Scott.) and numerous trips to Kathmandu on medical hold, she decided to ET.
It was a sad occasion because she had been such a good friend. She had been one of the people who had lived near to me in training and so our first experiences in Nepal had been, to some extent, similar. I wrote a haiku for her before she left, but I’ve misplaced it. I hope that if she reads this that she’ll post it online so I can have a laugh at it.
I saw her off at the Bharatpur airport, the same place where our friendship had began, oddly enough. We’d come full circle in some ways, as she was sick again and going to Kathmandu. Except this time, she wouldn’t be coming back.